“I always return”
by Françoise Deriaz
Cineuropa: Since The Golden Gloves of Akka (1992) your career as a director-producer has often followed Palestine’s history. How do you explain this constant thread?
Nicolas Wadimoff: Every time I go there, I tell myself it’s the last time. But, it’s as if it’s got under my skin and I always return. It’s also connected to my interest in questions of identity, origin and exile, undoubtedly stemming from my mixed roots.
You worked with Béatrice Guelpa, with whom you co-directed The Accord (2005). Can you tell us more about this collaboration?
She’s a journalist and writer and her human approach interests me a lot. For Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza) [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Wadimoff
film profile], we looked for the film’s protagonists together, did the groundwork for shooting and exchanged lots of ideas on location.
How did you manage to get into Gaza with a movie camera in February 2009, just after the Israeli military operation?
Thanks to the support of Swiss French Television, I was able to spend 14 days shooting in Gaza. It’s a lot compared with the usual entry permits, but very little time to make a feature-length documentary. We didn’t have a minute to lose! In this respect, the teamwork with Béatrice Guelpa and DoP Frank Rabel was vital.
In a field of ruins still regularly pounded by the Israeli army, you wander around Gaza without interviewing leaders. Why did you make this choice?
Rather than speaking with officials, we went to see all those people who are trying to put together the scattered pieces of their lives. But if we had witnessed an interesting scene with someone from Hamas, I would have filmed it.
When you film the interview with rappers on an independent Islamist radio station, Hamas’ grip on Gazan society is clear to see. Does the rappers’ freedom of expression reflect the population’s deep-rooted aspirations?
In this scene, we sense the total social control exerted by Hamas – who are not the most radical group in Gaza – and these rappers dare to say out loud what people are thinking quietly. In November, we organised three screenings of the film in Gaza. The rappers and people from Hamas came along and all of them took part in the discussions. Debate is still possible when the right conditions are created, in this case at a specific event, a film screening. But these opportunities for discussion are extremely rare.
The film opens with images of a wrecked amusement park. You film symbols of carefreeness and wonder – a zoo, clowns – which have been destroyed by the war. Are dreams stronger than war?
I soon realised that the film would be on the side of the living. This choice was made when I became aware of that universal process: the desire to rebuild one’s life after the worst disasters. As a result, we explored living spaces which would be unremarkable anywhere else but seem incredible over there.
You also show a family whose fields of olive trees have been destroyed. What happened?
There is land invasion. It’s unjustifiable and I hope that the scene conveys this strongly enough. In the film, we ask the question: Was it worth destroying this field of olive trees, some of which are several hundred years old?
Is the hope more alive in young people?
Older people are on their second or third war; they have a certain resignation. Whereas the new generations have the crazy energy of youth.
Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza) won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Has it sparked reactions from the Israeli government?
No, not at all. We’ve even been invited to Tel-Aviv by the Cinematheque for special screenings. Some Israelis I know will be thrilled that the film is being shown there and people can discuss it afterwards.